After a whirlwind season of football in the North East which saw everything from promotions to relegations and European qualification to Play-Off heartbreak, we’ve all managed to take a necessary rest and reflect on the campaign that was.
That sense of calm can get boring after a while, though. The eagerness to get back to a game and smell the freshly cut grass is never too far away.
Pre-Season games provide a nice relaxed buffer before the rough and tumble of the regular season gets underway and, in the North East especially, there is plenty of warm weather football for fans to enjoy.
With the start of these games just a couple of short weeks away, here are the stand out fixtures for groundhoppers to add to their calendar for this summer.
Saturday July 8 – Black Cats in South Shields & Gateshead double header
After a very successful first season back in the Championship wish saw Sunderland finish in the Play-Off places only to lose out to eventual winners Luton Town, Tony Mowbray’s side kick-off their pre-season in exciting fashion against two National League level sides.
The club are providing fans with a fun filled afternoon of football as they first play at South Shields’ 1st Cloud Arena where former Black Cats favourite Julio Arca will be in the home dugout for the first time after replacing Kevin Phillips.
Action will get underway at 12:30pm and at 4pm Sunderland’s second game of the day will begin as the squad will make the short journey to the Gateshead International Stadium to go head to head with this past season’s FA Trophy finalists.
Certainly a day that supporters will need to put aside completely rather than just a couple of hours, but a day that will be sure to entertain.
Friday July 14 – Hartlepool welcome Michael Carrick’s Middlesbrough
If last season would have ended how these sides would’ve wanted, we would be seeing a League Two side host a newly promoted Premier League team.
Unfortunately, Pool were relegated from the Football League and re-enter the National League meanwhile Middlesbrough’s top flight dreams were squandered by Coventry City in the Play-Offs.
Despite the disappointing end to the season for these clubs, this remains an occasion to look forward to on what will hopefully be a warm and action packed 7:45pm kick-off at Vcitoria Park.
Saturday July 15 – Toon head to the Heed
Gateshead’s eventful pre-season will continue in mid-July as they welcome a Newcastle United side preparing not only for domestic competition, but also the Champions League.
The last time the sides met in a pre-season outing, July 2015, Gateshead gaffer Mike Williamson was lining up for the Magpies as Steve McClaren’s Newcastle left the Gateshead International Stadium 1-0 winners following a Papiss Cisse penalty.
It’s safe to say Eddie Howe’s Newcastle are a much stronger outfit than the Magpies of eight years ago and the positive vibes have radiated all across Tyneside as Gateshead’s excellent second half of the 22/23 season steered them to National League safety as well as an appearance at Wembley.
A highly anticipated 12:30pm kick-off in NE10 is set to keep the good feelings going ahead of the new season.
Saturday July 22 – Spartans host Hartlepool
After completing a great escape late in the season to remain a National League North club, Blyth Spartans are readying for a season in a division with plenty of fellow North East sides such as Darlington, Spennymoor Town and South Shields.
In their penultimate pre-season outing they will welcome the aforementioned Hartlepool United in what will surely be a stern test for those in green and white at Croft Park.
Graham Fenton’s side will look to prove they compete with the best in the National League set-up and the 3pm kick-off will provide a great opportunity for them to do so.
Saturday July 29 – Carlisle host visitors from across the border
Carlisle United achieved promotion to League One in dramatic fashion as they bested Stockport County on penalties at Wembley.
A true underdog story for a side who were nearly relegated from the Football League the season prior and they will be eager for action against the likes of Derby County, Reading and Portsmouth by late July.
Their final pre-season test will be at Brunton Park as they host Dundee United. The Terrors had a season worthy of their nickname as they were relegated to the Scottish Championship despite starting the campaign by beating AZ Alkmaar 1-0 in the first leg of a Europa Conference League qualifier.
Paul Simpson will be able to showcase new and old players to the Blues faithful and hopefully build excitement ahead of a landmark campaign.
No matter who you support there are plenty of games to take in this summer to get you primed and ready for the new season starting in August.